Pay one Price – Ride all Day! Amusement Parks in the National Register of Historic Places

Today’s post is by John LeGloahec, Archivist in the Electronic Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

roller coaster, Santa Cruz, California
CALIFORNIA–SANTA CRUZ (National Archives Identifier 543212)

As the calendar turns to the fifth month of the year, outdoor activities become more frequent with the advent of warmer weather.  Many schools will also hold field trips for classes to local amusement parks and people in general will head to beaches, parks, and go on vacation in the run up to summer.  Before you go, take a look at the Amusement Parks properties in the files of the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) (National Archives Identifier 20812721), including the Playland, located in Rye, New York (National Archives Identifier 75323175), “a two hundred and eighty acre county-owned site on Long Island Sound in the city of Rye . . . Opened to the public in 1928, Playland, the first totally planned amusement park in the country, was the result of the combined efforts of the Westchester County Park Commission and its staff, and the architectural team of A. Stewart Walker and Leon Gillette. The Park’s basic plan and its main buildings, most of which were designed in the distinctive Art Deco style, remain largely intact.”

“In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Rye became a summer resort area for wealthy Manhattan residents. The popularization of the automobile in the 1920s accelerated the development of Westchester County, a “natural outlet for New York” as an important suburban region. Recognizing the need for regional planning early in that decade, the Westchester County Board of Supervisors, under the provisions of the Westchester County Park Law, created the county Park Commission in 1921 . . . American amusement parks of the 1920s, although popular, were not always held in high esteem. Many had been developed by transit companies and were known as “trolley parks,” but by the late years of that decade, as members of the middle and upper classes bought their own cars, the numbers of riders on the trolley lines and attendance at these parks fell sharply. Amusement parks became “hangouts for the local rowdies.” Coney Island, the prototype of many amusement parks early in the twentieth century, had itself become an extremely popular but heterogeneous arena for “sideshows, barkers, hot dog stands, rides, and games, crooked or otherwise.” . . . Playland opened in May 1928. With the exception of the Casino and the pool, to be built the following year, and the replacement of the lagoon with lawn, it was erected according to the Walker and Gillette plan. The project had cost $6,191,690.00, with the exceptions of the Hutchinson River and Saw Mill River parkways, the most expensive undertaking of the Park Commission.”

Cyclone Roller Coaster, Coney Island, New York
Coney Island, N.Y., Nov. 23, 2012 — The famous Cyclone was seriously damaged by Hurricane Sandy. FEMA is working with various partners including federal, state, local and tribal governments, voluntary faith-based and community-based organizations, along with the private sector, to assist residents impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Photo by Ed Edahl/FEMA (National Archives Identifier 24472169)

Also in New York is the famous Coney Island boardwalk and the historic Cyclone Roller Coaster, “also known simply as the Cyclone, was built in 1927 on a 75- by 500-foot lot at the intersection of Surf Avenue and West 10th Street in Coney Island, Kings County, New York . . . The ride’s three trains, two of which can run at the same time, consist of three linked cars which accommodate eight riders each . . . The Cyclone remains at its original Surf Avenue location as a featured ride of the Astroland Amusement Park, and is the only roller coaster to remain in operation at Coney Island, a seaside area of Brooklyn which was once dominated by the carnival-like atmosphere of amusement park rides and attractions.”

“Incandescent lights, some of which are attached to the structure by original curved lightposts, follow the Cyclone’s contours. Illuminated metal letters, produced by Manheimer & Weiss of New York, spell out “CYCLONE” on each side of the ride’s highest peak. More recent signage, advertising “ASTRDLAND” in painted letters, has been erected above the historic signage, but does not obscure it. Another sign, apparently dating to the Cyclone’s renovations of circa 1939, is affixed to the structure on its Surf Avenue side and vertically spells out “CYCLONE” in neon letters of a modernistic typeface.”

MERRY-GO-ROUND AT AMUSEMENT PARK (National Archives Identifier 543213)

In the Maryland suburbs just outside Washington DC is Glen Echo Park, with an operating carousel. “The Glen Echo carrousel is significant as an exceptionally fine example of the art of carrousel building. Of some 200 carousels in the United States of approximately the same vintage, it is among the top six or seven in quality. It appears to be the only carrousel of its age and quality remaining in its original location. The carrousel was built in Philadelphia in 1921 by the firm of Gustav and William Dentzel, one of America’s most prominent carrousel makers. Shortly thereafter it was shipped to the Glen Echo Amusement Park, which operated from the turn of the century until the late 1960s, and became a principal feature beloved by generations of Washington area children. When the amusement park closed, the carrousel was sold to a Virginia collector. Aroused Glen Echo citizens raised the $80,000 necessary to repurchase it for retention in the community.”

Map, Glen Echo Park
Glen Echo Park Site Map, Project Years 2004-2012 (National Archives Identifier 33754022)

“The carrousel at Glen Echo Park (formerly Glen Echo Amusement Park) consists of a suspended stage and canopy divided into 18 bays or segments. It contains 52 carved wooden animals in three concentric rings around the stage and two decorated circus chariots with fixed wheels, each having two seats. The animals include 39 horses, four ostriches, four rabbits, and a single deer, tiger, giraffe, and lion, all bearing fanciful saddles with colorful saddle blankets and harnesses. The carrousel and its accompanying Wurlitzer Band Organ are housed in a 12-sided building with a segmented domed roof . . . Where the bays intersect, the festoon is broken by winged cherubs’ heads in cartouches. The wooden outer cornice of the canopy is elaborately carved and painted. It features 18 carved court jester heads in cartouches alternating with 18 gold gesso framed mirrors . . . Each finely carved jester has a white face with a red or blue ruff and sleigh bells attached to its hair. The bottom molding is broken by a festoon of flowers below each jester and a classical head framed in laurel leaves beneath each mirror.”

flooded amusement park, Georgia
Flooding – Ga. , September 22, 2009 — Flood waters covered parts of roller coasters at Six Flags Over Georgia following heavy rain on September 20-21, 2009. Photo by Bruce Kinney (National Archives Identifier 7853035)

“While the concept of the carousel has been recorded since Byzantine times, the word itself derives from the 12th-century word “carosellos.” These “little wars,” introduced to Europe by Spain and Italy, were tests of horsemanship and dexterity, where fragile clay balls containing perfume were tossed from one rider to another. The object was to prove one’s skill by catching the ball and avoiding the loser’s mark of the unmanly scent.”

“In France, by the 16th-century, this game had developed into a lavish spectacle called a “carrousel,” a pageant of elaborately costumed cavaliers demonstrating their equestrian skills to crowds of thousands. By the late 17th-century, the idea of the carousel, as known today, was established . . . By the 1860s, the invention of the steam engine led to the patent of the “Portable Roundabout” in England, with it forty-eight foot platform and jumping horses. By the 1880s, carousels were being manufactured on a large scale throughout Europe. During the 19th-century, the carousel developed in the U.S. as well as in Europe. The first American patent for a carousel was given in 1850 to Eliphalet S. Scripture, for his “Improvement in the Flying Horse,”.”

Another merry-go-round, the Riverview Carousel, is available at Six Flags Over Georgia, seen above after storms flooded the park, “in Cobb County, Georgia. The park is located 6 miles west of downtown Atlanta, along the Chattahoochee River. The Riverview Carousel was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company (PTC) in 1908 for the German Sharpshooter Park (later Riverview Park) in Chicago, Illinois. The forty-ton carousel consists of a 26′ ship’s mast center pole, a round platform (165 feet in circumference), steel and wooden machinery, two small and two large hand-carved wooden chariots, fifty-five wooden moving horses (jumpers) and fourteen wooden standing horses (standers). One stander, #14-D, is missing and has not been replaced. The horses are arranged five abreast and are elaborately carved and painted. The machinery is contained in a small enclosure located in the center of the platform. The enclosure is not original to the carousel but was constructed for safety reasons. The 69 horses are mounted on metal poles and arranged in five concentric rings around a central machine room with the four chariots interspersed (Exhibit A). The exterior of the machine room is painted white and decorated with large mirrors and carved wooden moldings trimmed in gold.”

service members on roller coaster, Hershey Park, PA
US Air Force (USAF) personnel from the 193rd Special Operations Squadron (SOS), Special Operations Wing (SOW) located in Middletown, US Air Force (USAF) personnel from the 193rd Special Operations Squadron (SOS), Special Operations Wing (SOW) located in Middletown, Pennsylvania (PA), prepare for the first ride of Storm Runner, a roller coaster at Hershey Park, Hershey, Pennsylvania (PA) (National Archives Identifier 6663040)

In Pennsylvania, there are several amusements parks, including Hershey Park pictured above as well as Kennywood, in Allegheny County. “Kennywood Park is a 40-acre amusement area roughly 5 miles southeast of the city of Pittsburgh which is open to the public each year from April until Labor Day. Sited on a plateau above the south bank of the Monongahela River, nearly opposite Turtle Creek, Kennywood was begun as a trolley excursion park in 1898 by the Monongahela Street Railway Company and opened to the public in 1899.”

“Kennywood Park, the “Roller Coaster Capital of the World,” has also been dubbed, in the words of its premier historian, “America’s greatest traditional amusement park.” It has won such acclaim by enduring, since 1898, the multiple vicissitudes that have put dozens of its competitors out of business. The development of Kennywood Park documents the growth and trends in the amusement industry in America, as well as the technological advances and innovations which contributed to the Park’s continued success. Buildings, structures, or rides from nearly every era of its history are preserved at the Park.”

Amusement Park, Mall of America, MN
Grand Rounds Scenic Byway – Mall of America Amusement Park (National Archives Identifier 7718717)

In Utah, thrill seekers can ride the Lagoon Flying Scooter, currently known as the Flying Aces, is an amusement park ride built by the Bisch-Rocco Amusement Company and installed at the Lagoon Amusement Park in Farmington, Davis County, Utah in 1941. It is one of only twelve examples of the historic ride still operating today. The ride consists of ten scooter cars attached by cables to a steel support tower and boom system. The Lagoon Flying Scooter is one of only two examples that rotate clockwise. The ride has been in five different locations within the park, but because it was designed for disassembly, minor location shifts within the park do not affect its historic integrity. The period of significance extends from the original installation in 1941 to 1962, which spans its first and second locations within the park. The historic period includes the in-kind replacement of the original scooter cars with the current assembly, also built by the Bisch-Rocco company, which has been the only major modification to the ride since its original construction.”

Even Presidents enjoy some time at amusement parks and, sometimes they don’t. In this political cartoon from the Clifford Berryman Collection, it “shows the many options President Harry Truman considered when forming a policy for Palestine following WWII. The two carousel horses “Partition” and “Non-Partition” refer to the consenting views on whether or not to divide Jews and Palestinians into their own territories. The “Arms Embargo” horse symbolizes the fact that Truman refused to supply either the Jews or the Arabs with weapons. “Recognition” stands for Truman’s refusal to recognize a Jewish state in Palestine, despite large debates over the matter.”

Berryman political cartoon, Truman
What’s He Riding This Time Around? (National Archives Identifier 6012423)

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring records from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives ID 20812721), a series within Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service.